“Just another guy with a blog.  No big whoop.”

November 10, 2009

This Debate Did Not Go Well for the Catholic Side

I just finished watching the video of a public debate recently held in England on the proposition: "The Catholic Church is a Force for Good in the World." As a Catholic who ardently believes in the truth of that proposition, this was an exchange that was not pleasant to watch. There was so much at stake vis-a-vis public opinion that was swayed in the wrong direction as a result. It could have had a much different outcome.

The two Catholics who defended the debate proposition were Nigerian Archbishop John Onaiyekan and British MP Anne Widdecombe. The two men denying the proposition were the accomplished homosexual actor Stephen Fry and world-famous atheist author and commentator Christopher Hitchens.

— I'm sorry for the auto-play on the video. To stop it, click the "pause" button. —

The regrettable truth is that this debate was, as atheist polemicist Richard Dawkins termed it, a rout. Fry and Hitchens are clearly vastly superior rhetoricians, masters of the English language both, and they homed in relentlessly and with devastating effect on many white-hot hot-button issues that are neither easy to explain quickly (this debate was geared for quick sound bites, a skill that Hitchens has honed to an art form, by the way) nor palatable to the majority of people today (i.e., The World).

I applaud and am sincerely grateful to both Archbishop Onaiyekan and Ms. Widdecombe for their courageous efforts to publicly explain and defend the Catholic Church and Her teachings, but they were simply not prepared for this encounter. God bless them for their willingness, though, to stand up for the Faith in a very hostile environment. I truly admire them for that.

And yet, we can do better, much, much better, than that in public debates with those who take up the cudgel against the Catholic Church. And if we're going to have any chance of winning the souls of the "undecideds," we had better set about making our case as effectively and as vigorously and as soon as possible. If we don't, the tide of opposition to Truth will continue to swell.

Which brings me to my impromptu list of Madrid's Rules for Debating.

Rule 1: Don't be afraid to fight the good fight, but understand that, nowadays, it may become a street-fight.

Rule 2: If you're going to street-fight, you had better know how to street fight.

Rule 3: Always adhere to the Pell Protocol — If you're going fight, fight to win.

If ever there is ever another opportunity to hold such a public debate with Fry and Hitchens and two Catholics, I would like to suggest that the Catholic Church's defenders include some combination of the following street fighters and rhetorical heavyweights:

Peter Kreeft, Benjamin Wiker, Robert George, Dinesh D'Souza (who has debated Christopher Hitchens quite effectively many times), Helen Alvare, Alan Keyes, Father John Corapi, or Dr. Scott Hahn. There are other worthy contenders, to be sure, but these folks are an excellent start.
Any combination of these stalwarts would result in a much different kind of debate than what we see in this video. And I'd definitely want to be in the audience for that debate!

Watch and learn:


  1. I agree with your view on the need to be prepared for a street fight. But in a debate such as this with that audience, the Catholic side was always going to 'lose'. This was an anti-Catholic audience that would have rejected any positive assertions about Catholicism. They happily listened to Fry, who amongst many suspect assertions, repeated the accusations of the reformation propogandist John Foxe re Thomas More, without questioning whether what he says might not in fact be true. (Even though Fry, like Foxe, is a well-known historical fabricator, who recently accused the Catholic Poles of being responsible for Auschwitz!!)

    As I understand it, the Catholic bishops in England were approached about putting up speakers for the motion, but told the organisers that they didn't do that kind of thing, which is presumably why we had a foreign bishop doing it. The atheists on the other hand were well organised. Via forums and social networking sites they ensured they got a large proportion of the tickets. The lesson is that to win a street fight you have to be organised, which is something you can't accuse English Catholics of being.

  2. I think you too would be good at debating this issue. I have seen some of your other debates and you've done well. In addition, you clearly understand what was done right and wrong in this particular debate and our position would benefit for your insight. Maybe we have the makings of your next offering?

  3. Ditto your list of rules.

    The speakers spent almost no time detailing all the good things the Church does and has done throughout the world and society. Instead they assumed people already knew these things and they simply gave very general broad overviews of the Church's mission. As a result, they got bogged down defending to the standard laundry list of sins and problems ... as well as the lies and distortions .... of the Church &/or her members (any of which could have been addressed with more time than they had).

    I think both the moderator and the audience as a whole was on the anti-Catholic side to begin with. Hitchen's is good at this sort of format.

  4. Patrick,

    Since that day I "met you in blog world" because I had been attacked for something I posted in a combox here on your blog - you have never had a problem wavering from the truth of the faith and especially defending it.

    You helped me to understand that some attacks come from "ignorance of The Church" but alot are malicious because they don't want to learn. They enjoy fighting.

    I received a threatening and very scary hate mail recently from a man who was anti-catholic and filled with hate towards me personally (whom he doesn't know).

    Later on we discovered that this man is truly unstable and has some real mental health issues. But the anti-catholic rhetoric he reads online and hears on the radio, have made him an almost "trigger happy" defender of "that thing that is called faith", and a fighter against the evil "Whore of Babylon"

    You are the best defender and apologest because you don't spend time playing games - you just speak the truth.

    You should be on a team to defend Our Faith. In my area of the south, we are having to defend Christmas because all of the "neo reformed" say we are pagan for bringing Christmas to the world.

    They don't understand how even the Roman Cross was pagan and now is a symbol of Christ's triumph. Our Lord is in charge of all things and they can be set aside and sanctified for His use because He has redeemed all of creation from the curse.

    Sorry to go on and on. Thank you for all you do for the faith that was handed down once for all the saints!
    In the peace of Christ,

  5. Boo Hoo, the video/audio is no longer available! If there is another place where I can find it, I'd be happy for the reference.